After Alice alcohol clampdown, NT to get tougher cash restrictions

Northern Territory residents could be subject to tougher spending restrictions when the cashless debit card used to control their spending winds up in March, while Prime Minister Anthony says he is open to a return of total alcohol bans for communities at risk.

Labor promised throughout last year’s election to abolish the cashless debit card, an income management tool that quarantines between 30 per cent and 80 per cent of welfare payments, and prevents it being withdrawn as cash or used to pay for alcohol or gambling.

Plans to switch welfare recipients in the territory to a voluntary card that restricts spending have been ruled out for the rest of 2023.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth, who will oversee changes to income management in the NT.

Alex Ellinghausen

According to government sources with knowledge of the repeal of the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory, the restrictions on spending for participants will be increased when the new scheme begins in March.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth told ABC’s Radio National on Wednesday the federal government hadn’t misjudged their plans for voluntary income management in light of the alcohol-fuelled violence in Alice Springs, adding communities would be consulted on the future of income management in the territory.

Legislation passed last year made the cashless debit card voluntary in October 2022, but Northern Territory residents will be kept on it until March 6, when they will be transferred to an enhanced program, the details of which aren’t fully known.

“The Albanese Labor Government is working in partnership with the NT Government and the local community on a way forward, because we know that the best solutions come from local communities themselves,” Rishworth said in a statement to this masthead.

Northern Territory police commissioner Jamie Chalker said that when people had more access to cash “we unfortunately see an increase in alcohol-related harm”.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the government will consult with Northern Territory communities on the future of income management.

Alex Ellinghausen

“We know that when there’s extra money that comes into circulation without real due diligence as to what the potential consequential impacts may be, it invariably ends up being a police problem,” he said.

During an interview with Sky News, Albanese was asked whether communities could be subjected to a total alcohol ban if that’s what a review found.

“Well, that’s an option that we completely have said is there on the table,” Albanese said. However, he blamed the previous Coalition government for allowing the laws governing the bans to lapse.

Minister for Aboriginal Australians Linda Burney said on Wednesday morning she had been pushing the Northern Territory government for months to get tougher on alcohol following persistent calls from Alice Springs community leaders to act.

The morning after the federal and territory governments jointly announced an overhaul of alcohol sales to curb rising crime in the central Australian town, Burney told ABC’s Radio National Breakfast on Wednesday said the territory government had admitted “they clearly got it wrong” in not responding sooner.

Federal laws restricting alcohol in some communities were allowed to lapse in July. Alcohol-driven crime has risen dramatically in the territory as liquor became legal in some areas for the first time in 15 years.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress wrote to Burney about violence and alcohol on June 9, shortly after the minister was sworn in, and several other Indigenous groups have been calling for bans ever since.

Burney said she’d been in talks with the Northern Territory government for months, at least as far back as the Garma festival in July.

Asked whether she had told them they needed to be tougher on alcohol, Burney responded, “yes, I have expressed that there needs to be some very real thought put into alcohol restrictions”.

“I’m not going to get into whether they’ve taken too long or they haven’t, but clearly if you talk to people in Alice Springs, the answer might be ‘yes’,” Burney said.

Burney said she “deeply” believed that, had a Voice to parliament already been in place, then the crime surge in Alice Springs would not have reached the levels that it had.

“It is wrong to think the issue out here is just alcohol, there has been neglect for 10 years,” she said.
On top of an existing restriction on Sunday alcohol sales, bottle shops will be banned from selling take-away alcohol on Mondays and Tuesdays, while trading hours for takeaways would be reduced on the remaining days, and transactions would be limited to one per person, per day.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday the government would also consider the reintroduction of alcohol bans in the Northern Territory under an “opt-out situation” rather than the current rules, which allow communities to opt in to restrictions, following the lifting of federal legislation in July.

But the territory’s chief minister, Natasha Fyles, told Radio National Breakfast she potentially wanted to hold a formal election on future alcohol bans in the territory, adding she wanted to make sure “we have all voices heard”.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress office where Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is holding meetings to discuss crime and alcohol-fuelled violence in Alice Springs.

Kate Geraghty

She said the government would be putting in an alcohol management plan for the whole of Central Australia, which could include restrictions in remote communities.

Education Minister Jason Clare told Nine’s on Wednesday morning: “You’ve got a serious problem in the Alice, and it’s fuelled by alcohol”.

Clare said alcohol abuse was only “a symptom of a bigger problem” in crime-plagued Alice Springs.

“The real chronic problems in the Alice … Tackling the grog problem is part of it, but that is just the start. There are bigger problems there that are associated with education and unemployment as well. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been there as education minister as well.”

On Seven’s program, Assistant Minister on Indigenous Affairs Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said the next three months would be critical.

“I’d like to say to the residents of Alice Springs and here in central Australia that this is about listening to the concerns of wanting to feel safe. There had to be a circuit breaker.”

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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